Slowing Business Growth? How to Recognize and Fix It.

Business growth over time is rarely a straight, upward line on a chart. There are ebbs and flows, peaks and valleys in the growth of every organization. What often separates top-level organizations from others is the ability to recognize those valleys early on, and to take appropriate action to get that line pointed upward again.

These fluctuations can be a result of external factors like the economy in general or certain market conditions, or the circumstances within an organization. Sometimes businesses simply get too comfortable with the same-old, same-old, and they’re in one of those ruts before they realize it.

To make things even more challenging, it’s easy to have that sense of being ‘stuck’ even when it’s objectively not so. So how do you tell the difference, and what do you if you are treading water? Here are some thoughts:

Are you really in a rut? The irony here is that you may not be the best person to answer this question, which calls for perspective and the proverbial 10,000-foot view. Seek out an uninvolved third party, or more than one, as a mentor or consultant. Tell the whole story of where you’ve come from and where you think you’re going, and listen carefully to the feedback. Unbiased advice can be invaluable here.

Spend some time thinking on where you’ve come from and how you’ve grown to date. Look at old marketing materials, photos or even financial statements. You might be surprised at how much you’ve grown, and how much you’ve forgotten of what’s in the rearview mirror.

This is a good time also to circle back to the ‘why’ of your business. What were your original mission and vision, and is the current version of your company still true to those? This alone can be a useful guide as to whether a course correction is in order.

Are the causes of your business stagnation internal or external? There’s been no shortage of external pressures on every business over these past few years, as we’ve had to navigate our way through the pandemic and getting things done with a largely remote workforce. Now, the economy appears poised to deliver even more challenges, with an unprecedented combination of high inflation and a tight labor market. It’s not unlikely that you can pin at least some of the blame for your rut on what’s going on around us.

But even in ideal market conditions, businesses get stuck in old ways of doing things, which can hamper growth. If it feels like nothing is working, it may be that the organization has grown a little too comfortable in its routine ways of doing things. Are you recycling financial or marketing plans and just updating the numbers? Insist on a fresh start. Are there major initiatives you’ve been intending to launch, but haven’t found the energy? Now’s the time.

Control what you can. External forces like the economy are of course beyond our ability to control. But addressing any internal inertia will make you a stronger company and leave you better prepared to weather whatever’s coming.

The appropriate fixes will vary depending on the symptoms and your own circumstances, but any or all of the following can help you to regain forward momentum:

The right people in the right seats: Is everyone doing the job that best suits their skill sets? Maybe it’s time to reassign duties, or to bring in fresh talent to address weaknesses.

Take a break: Nothing will stall a business faster than collective burnout. Consider organizing a company retreat, or just giving the team an unexpected break of a day or two with the guidance that they use the time to do whatever recharges them best.

Change for the sake of change: As much as we want every action to have a purpose, sometimes things just need to be mixed up a bit. Reassign physical spaces so employees are interacting with different team members. Rearrange office furniture.

Try a little Marie Kondo: What makes you or your team unhappy? Is it a certain client, a balky piece of office equipment, software that slows them down? Not everything has to bring you joy, but get rid of the annoyances that have a negative impact on morale.

Finish what you started: Address those incomplete (or not yet begun) projects and initiatives. We all have them. Give each one a deadline and assign the right people to get it done.

Most of the people looking into financial crystal balls agree that more challenging times are ahead. Now’s the time to figure out if you’re stuck, where you’re stuck and what to do about it, and experienced, impartial advice is your best friend in getting out of that rut … or not getting into it in the first place.